Tag Archives: Repurposing

Rapt Studio Transforms Mid-Century Marina Del Rey Complex into an Airy Tech Hub

LOCATION Marina Del Rey
FIRM Rapt Studio
SQ. FT. 130,000 SQF

Leveling the single-story smattering of 1950s garages and factories was one option. Renovating, repurposing, and enlarging them was another. The former would provide a blank slate, the latter more of a challenge—but more character. Rapt Studio CEO and chief creative officer David Galullo, prolific designer of workplaces for such companies as Google, Twitter, and PayPal, opted to retain all but one of the six brick and concrete-block structures for the Marina Del Rey, California, campus now called MDR Truss. Today, it’s home to Zefr digital advertising, the Bouqs Co., an online farm-to-table flower delivery service, and real estate developer the Bradmore Group, the client that hired Rapt for the 130,000-square-foot project. So enamored with the result, president and CEO David Bohn decided to move the company into one of the buildings.

A site-specific installation by Settlers LA hangs in the Rapt Studio–designed headquarters of Zefr, a digital advertising company in Marina del Rey, California. Photography by Eric Laignel.


“David was looking to take advantage of what was here before,” begins Galullo, just off the plane from Milan, where Rapt showcased its debut Salone del Mobile installation Tell Me More. “He and his team understood that these little industrial buildings could actually add up to something pretty.” Rapt was tasked with creating the master plan for MDR Truss: Initial meetings with the client illustrated how the 3-acre site would be used, where cars could park, and how Rapt would work with the landscape architect to plant low-water and native species and create pedestrian pathways, among other essential changes. Bradmore was so impressed with the concept that the initial budget was increased. Ultimately, Rapt added a second floor to one building, de­cks to two of them, cleaned and re-painted all exterior masonry, and relocated entryways and exits and inserted roll-up glass garage doors for more light and better flow in nearly all the buildings. Additional outdoor spaces such as fire pits and a lawn for employee pets even “feel a bit resort,” Galullo notes.

Watch now: “Tell Me More,” Rapt Studio’s Installation at Salone del Mobile

The company occupies four buildings at MDF Truss, an office complex master-planned by Rapt. Photography by Eric Laignel.


Rapt was then hired again by Bradmore for its interiors and by Zefr for its offices, which occupy 40,000 square feet across four buildings. “We were morphing the exterior design based on what the interiors needed,” Galullo explains. Because all six buildings were leased prior to the completion of construction, the firm was able to deeply customize the design.

Reception’s white oak desk is backed by a Carrara marble panel, all custom. Photography by Eric Laignel

Creating an upgraded space for Zefr meant pushing a company with a start-up mentality—it was founded in 2008 and focuses on YouTube content targeting—into a more sophisticated space. “The idea was like Hey, we still want to be scrappy, but let’s have moments where we remind people that we’re heading in the right direction,” Galullo says. “For us, a brand is about the organization’s attitude, personality, and culture.” The result is a mixture of refined custom sectionals and walnut tables with furnishings from the hipper end of mass retailers and unpretentious, locally focused artwork. “It doesn’t feel like a dorm room, more like your second apartment,” Galullo adds, glancing down from the deck off one of the building’s newly added second floor at the rack of staffers’ sandy surfboards and the Zefr-branded skateboard ramp.

Hans Hornemann’s sofa faces leather butterfly chairs in a meeting area. Photography by Eric Laignel.


In Zefr’s main building, Rapt took advantage of the 16-foot ceiling with site-specific installations. One is at the entry: a cascade of white ribbons designed by art fabrication company Settlers LA that’s akin to an enor­mous ocean whitecap but that Galullo de­scribes as “kind of flowy.” Neptune Glassworks, another area artisan, pitched its canopy of handblown  glass orbs to Rapt and it ended up above the café, where occa­sional blue walls further nod to sea and sky.

The satin ribbons range from 3 to 30 feet long. Photography by Eric Laignel.

Galullo calls Rapt “transdiscipli­nary, which is like equal measure on every discipline coming together to form something new.” In the case of Zefr, that meant curating an art and furniture offering “that’s an interesting and eclectic blend,” he says. “The last thing we want is for the office to feel like it was decorated to be perfect. People spend a lot of time here, so we focused on the spaces where people are going to hang.” So, for Zefr’s myriad lounge, meeting, and break-out areas, there’s always a duo of lounge chairs, plus a sofa, coffee table, and rug—a homey configuration that differentiates them from the rows of workstations.

A sofa by Harrison and Nicholas Condos furnishes a deck off a new second floor. Photography by Eric Laignel.


The approach also meant eschewing corner offices (although there are private phone rooms in the core of each building as well as traditional conference rooms). One corner did surprise Galullo, however. It’s that outdoor deck space he created off a building’s new second floor. “I was worried it might feel like a cage because we wrapped it into the structure,” he recalls. “But it turned out to be an unexpected nugget.”

The company logo is painted onto the plywood skateboard ramp. Photography by Eric Laignel.

“When we set out on this project, we had to tell the story of both Zefr and the site’s history,” Galullo concludes. “It couldn’t just be about maximizing the number of parking spaces, although we did wrestle with that for quite some time.” In a locale where car culture still rules, that’s saying something.

Keep scrolling to view more images of the project >

Neptune Glassworks’s instal­lation in handblown glass and steel wire enlivens the café. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A corridor’s printed canvas echoes the community’s seaside location. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A pair of Busk + Hertzog lounge chairs compose a break-out area. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Most of the buildings in the 3-acre MDF Truss complex date to the 1950s. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Hee Welling chairs surround a Studio Hopkins table in a con­ference room. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Custom workstations in an office area also by Studio Hopkins. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Jason Miller pendant fixtures and tables by Charles and Ray Eames outfit the café booths. Photography by Eric Laignel.

Project Team: Sam Farhang (Creative Director); Kristen Woods; Derrick Prodigalidad; Krisada Surichamorn; Glenn Yoo; John Stempniak; Gigi Allen; Andrew Ashey; Scott Johnson; Michael Maciocia; Sasha Agapov; Alex Adamson; Semone Kessler; Rosela Barraza; Daniela Covarrubias; Justin Chen: Rapt Studio. EPT Design: Landscape Architect. Structural Focus: Structural Engineer. KPFF: Civil Engineer. E Engineers: Electrical Engineer. Tarantino Construction: General Contractor.

Product Sources: From top: Muuto: Chairs (Lounge). CB2: Table. Louis Poulsen: Pendant Fixtures. Grand Rapids Chair Co.: Stools. Restora­tion Hardware: Sofas (Lounge, Deck), Coffee Tables (Meeting Area, Deck, Break-Out Area). AM Cabinets: Custom Desk (Reception). Ladies & Gentlemen Studio: Pendant Fixture. Stoneland: Custom Panel. Framebridge: Custom Wall. Normann Copenhagen: Sofa (Meeting Area). Industry West: Chairs (Meet­ing Area), Café Chairs (Reception), Chairs (Café, Break-Out Area, Meeting Room). Herman Miller: Task Chair (Reception), Tables (Café Booths). Alexander & Willis: Custom Sofa (Reception), Custom Tables (Café). Source International: Chair (Meeting Room). Fab­ricut: Drapery. Flat Vernacular: Wallpaper (Café). Apparatus: Sconces. Softline: Lounge Chairs (Break-Out Area). Hay: Chairs (Conference Room). FabriSPAN: Ceiling Panels. OCL: Pendant Fixtures. Ege: Carpet. Pair: Table (Conference Room), Custom Workstations (Office Area). SitOn­It: Task Chairs (Office Area). Modulyss: Carpet. Roll & Hill: Pendant Fixtures (Café Booths). AM Cabinets: Custom Banquettes. Holly Hunt: Banquette Fabric. Sherwin-Williams Company: Paint. Throughout: West Elm: Rugs. Pfeifer Studio: Side Tables. Bp Glass Garage Doors: Cus­tom Garage Doors. Assa Abloy: Door Pulls. Lumenwerx: Linear Fixtures. Senso: Pendant Fix­tures. Wac Lighting: Track Lighting.

> See more from the May 2019 issue of Interior Design

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NAU senior using insect engineers, sea star digestion and other natural inspiration to design homeless shelter

Termites have to keep their larva at a cool temperature before hatching, so living in forests, basements and other dark, cool spaces makes sense.

Living in the Sahara Desert, where summer temperatures can soar past 115 degrees for days on end, does not make sense.

Yet the bugs not only live in the desert, they thrive, with the same tool humans use to make living in the desert possible—air conditioning. Using only dirt and their own spit, the insects build a natural cooling system into their mounds, allowing the inside to remain at a temperature low enough for the larva to develop despite the bracing summer sun.

Northern Arizona University senior Tristan Hess, who is studying interior design, learned about termite engineering in a construction management class. Now-retired professor Stephen Mead talked about a building in Zimbabwe modeled somewhat after a termite mound, complete with this natural ventilating system. This process, Mead told his students, is known as biomimicry—copying nature to build structures, design software or create medicine.

“I just thought it was so cool, this idea of modeling something after nature and using it for your own benefit,” Hess said. “So I started doing my own research on it.”

A couple of weeks later, he was sitting in an interior design class when the professor mentioned biomimicry. With his research fresh in his mind, he approached after class and told her of his interest in this concept. Was there some way for him to put this research into practice and get credit for it?

There was. This semester Hess began a yearlong independent study, during which time he will research biomimicry and bioinspiration and then design and build a prototype of his project—a homeless shelter that can withstand Flagstaff winters, be lightweight and movable and not cost too much to make. He also won a Hooper Undergraduate Research Award from NAU and will present his research at the Undergraduate Symposium in April.

And if that wasn’t enough to motivate Hess in his final year at NAU, he has the responsibility of leading a team of students and networking with architects, designers and city leaders to get buy-in for a project that he hopes goes far beyond his prototype.

“This really changes the game and brings new ideas,” he said.

Natural inspiration

In a climate-controlled world in which needs are scheduled weeks in advance, a shelter for homeless populations or refugees would be as simple as four walls and a roof. No creativity or extra effort would be needed.

Flagstaff is not that world. A shelter here needs to offer protection from the elements and low temperatures. Hess also envisions the shelter being built in pieces that are easy to put together and take apart as well as easy to move, as these could be used after natural disasters where temporary shelters are needed quickly or in refugee camps.

Biomimcry process

Could that ideal shelter be a simple tent-like structure that looks the same as tents anywhere else? Sure. But that may not be the best option, and that is what Hess wants to know.

“I think one of the really successful pieces of his proposal is it’s going to force anyone who gets involved with this project to think from a new direction,” said Britton Shepardson, an anthropology lecturer who is an adviser on Hess’ project. “If we really want to come up with something new, let’s force ourselves to be inspired by something totally different and off the wall.”

Shepardson has a history of being inspired by the totally different. One day after class, Hess went by Shepardson’s office to see the hydroponic garden in the window. The garden is engineered using tennis ball cans; Shepardson, an archaeologist, has gotten used to repurposing whatever is available after 15 years of nonprofit education work on the remote Easter Island. Hess, in the midst of research on the best ways to build a simple structure using whatever was available, told Shepardson about his project.

“I’ve known about biomimicry for the better part of a decade, but I was really impressed that an undergraduate student was knowledgeable about the world of biomimicry,” Shepardson said. He was in.

As the founder of a nonprofit, he brought administrative knowledge and connections to the group, introducing Hess to architects and designers and suggesting ways to obtain grants and work with government officials. He also liked approaching problems from a less traditional angle, particularly those that were well outside his field of study.

That is how Shepardson found himself making a long drive through the Mojave Desert thinking about Hess’ research. What if, he asked himself, they used what he called the Tinker Toy approach? Tinker Toys are building toys that clip together. They could design those clips as spherical joints that could have PVC pipe or some other material clip in, thus creating a modular exoskeleton from which heavy-duty tarps could be hung. The joints could be made easily, such as through the use of a 3-D printer, and PVC pipe and tarps are available anywhere.

This would also allow for structures to be sized differently with the same spherical joints and replicated easily if they could be made with 3-D printers. They would be easy to build and take down but still structurally sound enough to be safe and effective.

That, however, is the mathematical answer to the question of how. It’s important, but before Hess designs what he’s building he needs to figure out what he’s building.

Shepardson had an idea for that too.

“I don’t know how I know this, but sea stars, to eat, expel their entire stomach and engulf their prey, then draw their stomach back in with their prey,” he said.


The idea they came up with was this: The tent would have a sack hanging in the interior of the tent made of some type of absorbent material. During the day, that sack would be pushed through the ceiling to the exterior of the tent, allowing it to absorb radiant heat as long as the sun was up. At night, it would retract into the tent and act as a natural heater.


In his ruminating, Hess took the sea star concept even further, sketching out a tent shaped like a star, with each arm serving as a private room and the center being a gathering place. With that, Shepardson said, they could consider using the exterior walls of the tent for freshwater bins, to grow gardens or place additional heat reservoirs. With nature, the possibilities are almost endless.

But at the end of the day, will this work? As the research continues, they’ll find out.

“Will it work,” though, is not the only question. It may be a total failure. That’s a normal part of the research process. Hess and his

Students in biomimicry project

team are learning how to research, design, plan and consider all of their options. They didn’t say no to anything because it was too weird.

“We want to really make an impact instead of just doing something repeated that isn’t going to be really beneficial,” Hess said. “That really changes the game of everything and brings new ideas.”

They haven’t settled on the sea star design; Hess and the other students are still researching their options and discussing ideas like anthills, looking beyond the engineering into how ants interact with society. In the spring they’ll start with the design, eventually designing a small-scale model that can be printed in 3-D that Hess will present at the Undergraduate Symposium in April.

Faculty or students who are interested in participating are welcome to join the team as well. Hess said they are looking for people in engineering and architecture especially.

The importance of undergraduate research

Hess is one of 36 students to earn a Hooper Undergraduate Research Award this year, which is one of NAU’s programs to encourage students to start research early. Tina Zecher, the senior program coordinator for the Office for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, said the university encourages undergraduates to participate in research starting their first year of college, either by working with a professor on a project he or she has already started or, like Hess, creating a project of their own.

“It gives students the opportunity to apply what they’re learning in the classroom in a real-world setting,” she said. “In research, you actually see the purpose of what it is you’re doing.”

Although the benefit of research is obvious for students headed to graduate school, it also is valuable for those planning to enter the workforce after graduation. In addition to the networking that comes with working closely with researchers, students learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills, leadership, organization, communication skills and more.

The Office for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, which administers the Hooper awards, has a number of other research programs as well, including providing funding for students to travel to present their research at conferences. Another is the Interns to Scholars program, which pays students to work with professors on their research. That is a good way to get students thinking about research without actually taking the lead on a research project, Zecher said.

Her department is working with academic departments to provide opportunities for even more undergraduate students to get into research, particularly younger students or those who don’t have research on their radar. It’s not just for science majors headed to graduate school, she said. All students in all disciplines can benefit from being involved in research.

“Research is for all students, and everyone is capable of it,” Zecher said. “Those who are less academically prepared have more to gain from being involved in a research experience.”

What are the Hooper Undergraduate Research Awards?

These awards, funded by Henry Hooper, a former vice president at NAU, provide undergraduate students up to $3,500 in a year to lead a research project. Students of all disciplines can apply and use the money to pay themselves to do the research, for materials and supplies or for travel, in case the project requires students to go into the field to gather data. Selected students get six hours of independent study credits and present their research at the symposium in April; they also attend a reception with Hooper. Applications for the next academic year can be submitted starting Feb. 1. All of the materials to apply for the Hooper Undergraduate Research Awards are available online.

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